Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from wrath and make me pure.
Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone,
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyelids close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgement throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hid myself in thee
–Augustus M. Toplady (1740-1778)
I have a neighbor who keeps telling me, “I’ll be in church one day, I just have to make sure that I’m right with God first.” He is a kind man, with a gentle voice. He is a weathered man, and his face speaks of a past — some of which he has shared with me, and still more of which I am sure he has not.
His desire to “get right with God” before entering a church building is interesting, but it is not by any means unique. I have many people that struggle with various things: alcoholism, drug addiction, a troubled past which keeps them hostage. While some of these will show up in church, many of those I know will not. My concern, however, is not whether or not they will enter a church building, for ministry happens everywhere and, in my tradition, there is nothing particularly sacrosanct about a building itself.
What breaks my heart is the continual feeling that they are not good enough to stand in the presence of God. Many of us feel as though we have messed up too much, we have made too many mistakes, we have so offended God that it would be an insult for us to appear before God on holy ground. It is the continual feeling that we are not good enough to join together with the faithful, that we are not worthy of God’s grace.
“Church isn’t for perfect people,” I tell them, “church is a bunch of messed up people who learn that Jesus is the only one who can make them less messed up.” While I’m not confident that the fullness of my ecclesiology is reflected there, the point, I think, comes across.
The church isn’t for people who think they have it all together, indeed, these people will kill a church community. The church is for people who are broken and in need of healing, who are weary and in need of rest, who are thirsty and in need of streams of living water. The church is for people who understand that they can’t fix their problems on their own and need God, and the Christian community, to help them. The church is for people who have gone through too many trials and are angry at God, and is the place where they can scream and yell at God. The church is for people who are not sure if they even believe in God, but may, for some reason, find themselves drawn to it.
As Toplady so wonderfully describes, the church is for people who have nothing in their hands, but can only cling to the promise of the cross; the church is for people who are naked and need clothing, the church is for people who are helpless and need grace. The church is to welcome all of these people with open arms as we all stand shoulder to shoulder and experience the grace of this God who so relentlessly pursues us.
It is then that we can, with Toplady, see that an old cave which has given us refuge from a storm is more than what it may appear to be, it may actually be an old rock which God has broken open specifically for us to provide help in a time of need.